When Charles Lewis tilts his red kettle for a small child to drop a few coins or dollars into, the Salvation Army volunteer’s heart fills with joy.
“When you see their parents give them a dollar and change to put in there, it’s tremendous to see parents teaching them,” he said. “Community service needs to be community driven.”
The Bell County chapter of the nonprofit is one of the few Salvation Army units that does not receive a single grant, said Lt. Chris Bryant, corps officer for west Bell County Salvation Army locations. “We rely 100 percent on the community.”
Bryant wanted to bring the feeling of Christmas back to the Red Kettle Campaign this year, adding that when most people see Salvation Army bell ringers, they think, “Oh, it’s Christmas time.”
Cindy Schweitzer, who is a paid seasonal employee, loves her job not only because it supplements her income, but also because it’s a way to give back to the community.
“Most everything that Salvation Army gets here goes back into the community,” said Schweitzer, between wishing Walmart customers “Merry Christmas” as she jingled a bell. “I’m excited because one day I might need help and I can give back like this for now.”
Over the past few years, the nonprofit has been setting up the iconic red kettles earlier and earlier to keep up with the growing demand of service.
This year, Bryant waited until the day after Thanksgiving to send bell ringers to 14 Bell County stores, including Walgreens, Walmart, Big Lots and Hobby Lobby. Depending on the volunteer-base, ringers are at those locations between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Last year, the nonprofit raised a record breaking $94,000.
With the number of residents who are reaching out to the nonprofit for help increasing, Bryant said this year he wants to break the $100,000 barrier.
“The Red Kettle (Campaign) makes up 15 percent of our annual budget,” he said. “The money sustains us year-round. The more money we’re able to raise, the more we’re able to help people as the year continues.”
Lewis, who with a long white beard looks almost Santa Claus-like, volunteered full-time last year, and this year plans to spend about 20 hours a week collecting donations.
“I wanted to do it again because I’ve seen how much good the kettles do,” said Lewis, who added that he always greets people with a “good day” and a smile, because for some people, “it’s the only smile they’ll get all day.”
“It’s something I look forward to doing every year,” he said. “Some people put a large donation in the bucket and say they remember when the Salvation Army was their only Christmas.”